Escobar and the Braves: A marriage fit for divorce
So Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has decided to bring 80-year-old Jack McKeon out of retirement to fill the managerial vacancy that was created Sunday when Edwin Rodriguez resigned. I’m guessing Bobby Cox’s phone must have been busy.
Or maybe there are still some hard feelings stemming from when Cox labeled Loria as “unpredictable” after the Marlins fired Fredi Gonzalez on June 23 of last year. Well come to think of it, “unpredictable” was the nicest adjective Cox used when asked for his reaction to Gonzalez’s firing.
Sticking with this theme, the Blue Jays’ decision to announce Yunel Escobar’s two-year contract extension Sunday might not have been necessarily predictable. But it’s also hard to believe it was simply coincidental that it was announced one day before the enigmatic shortstop makes his return to Turner Field with the Blue Jays tonight.
It’s been nearly a full year since Escobar finally fully tested the Braves’ last ounce of patience and led them to trade him to the Blue Jays.
In the year that has passed, it seems Escobar has been as easy to get along with as he was during his first full calendar year in the Majors with the Braves. Yes his antics in the Minors basically led Jeff Blauser to decide he no longer wanted to pursue a coaching career.
But the Braves still believed Escobar would steadily mature and serve as their shortstop of the future. Their confidence in him allowed them to feel confident to include an 18-year-old highly-regarded shortstop named Elvis Andrus in the 2007 trade that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.
Before Escobar started to alienating himself from teammates and coaches with his on-field flash and off-the-field personality, he was simply evaluated based on his tremendous talent. It wasn’t long ago that Chipper Jones was saying Escobar could become the National League’s best shortstop.
But over the past year, there has never been the slightest hint he has been missed in the Braves’ clubhouse.
After the Blue Jays traveled to Disney for a game in March, I asked a Braves’ veteran if he had spoken to Escobar. He responded, “I tried, but he acted like I wasn’t even standing there.”
With this being said, it does seem Escobar understood it was time for him to part ways with the Braves.
“Everyone has their own opinion and I respect that,” Escobar told MLB.com through interpreter Luis Rivera Sunday. “Toronto has a different opinion of me. I’ve always played like that. I have fun on the field and I’ve proven now the kind of player I am. I’m being myself, and the Blue Jays allow me to be myself in the field.”
There were numerous episodes and actions that led the Braves to part ways with Escobar.
Since joining the Braves a little more than three years ago, Jair Jurrjens has routinely proven to be quite knowledgeable and mature. After the 2008 seeason, he talked to Escobar about the importance of learning the English language. The young pitcher was essentially telling him a greater divide would develop if he couldn’t communicate with his teammates and the media.
During the first half of the 2009 season, Escobar was removed from one game because of a “lack of focus”. Two weeks later, he once again opened himself up to public ridicule on June 25, when he took exception to a charged error by gesturing toward the press box and visibly pouting during the at-bat that followed.
During an eighth-inning at-bat in a one-run game two weeks later, he left Diory Hernandez out to dry when he didn’t swing at an inside pitch on a hit-and-run attempt. After that game, he told media members, “Come talk to me when I get three hits.” When he got three hits the next night, he refused to talk.
This led Javier Vazquez and some club officials to meet with Escobar the following day. Most of the benefit of that meeting was erased a few minutes later when a now-former Braves’ coach approached the shortstop and essentially told him he didn’t need to change anything.
With Escobar still giving reason to question his focus and effort a year later, the Braves created what seemed to be a necessary divorce. In exchange for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, they received Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins (traded to the Royals).
Escobar has batted .280 with eight homers, a .357 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage in 67 games with the Blue Jays this year. In 75 game with the Braves last year, he hit .238 with zero homers, a .334 on-base percentage and .284 slugging percentage.
Since matching a Major League record by going winless in 28 consecutive starts (dating back to his day with the Braves), Reyes has gone 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA. The lefty will start against the Braves Wednesday afternoon.
Gonzalez has been a tremendous defensive asset for the Braves and has shown the ability to enjoy some successful offensive spurts. The Braves will likely attempt to bring him back on a one or two-year deal.
Pastornicky has hit .301 with five homers and a .763 OPS with Double-A Mississippi this year. The 21-year-old shortstop likely won’t be ready to serve as Atlanta’s starting shortstop at the beginning of next year. But he is certainly solidifying his candidacy.
The Braves hated trading Collins to the Royals (for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth) just two weeks after acquiring him from the Blue Jays. The small left-handed reliever has struggled with his control (36K/29BB) while posting a 3.89 ERA in his first 35 career Major League appearances with the Royals this year.